By Tonnie Iredia
Recent media reports that officials of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), are under pressure to do wrong should be a source of worry to many people, especially at this eve of general elections.
The Chairman of the commission, Professor Attahiru Jega, was reported to have said that “people have been coming to me indirectly pressurising me to change the electoral officials, including the Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs). In fact, there is a particular state where I received over 20 requests in a day to change the REC. It got to a stage that I almost danced to their tune but I later discovered that those behind it were doing so for their selfish interest.”
If this is true, all right-thinking Nigerians who are anxiously awaiting successful elections from this Saturday, must condemn those involved. Disappointingly, Prof. Jega chose to protect both those who are allegedly pressurising him as well as the particular state from which he has been inundated with what he has found to be unwholesome requests. What then is the purpose of informing the general public of the so-called pressures?
The INEC boss acted similarly a few weeks back when he announced that some influential Nigerians were involved in double registration during the last voter- registration. Again, he did not name them and till date, he is yet to respond to the call by the Nigeria Network of NGOs to release the names of those involved in the exercise
As if raising public alarm on issues that can mar the coming elections is only to provide an alibi for whatever happens, the Resident Electoral Commissioner in Anambra State, Professor Chukwuemeka Onukogu, told newsmen in Awka last Tuesday that he too was under intense pressure from mischievous politicians to compromise the April polls. Onukogu reportedly said that some politicians had approached him with demands to do their bidding during the elections.
Unfortunately, the commissioner did not also disclose those pressurising him. My media colleagues to whom he made the disclosure no doubt poorly handled the assignment as they failed to get him to name names and indeed, to disclose the exact nature of the pressure. Whether it is outright intimidation through armed pressure or inducement through ‘Ghana must go’, the situation in Anambra appears to have gone beyond human power. Onokogu, we heared, has had to organise a prayer session with his staff asking them to pray to God to save them from temptations that might come from the political class during the elections. Fair enough, he did not forget to make the crucial point that “it is impossible to rig election in a state if the REC is not totally committed to it” thereby reminding us of what happened in his state during the voter-registration.
During the exercise, four registration centres were ‘discovered’ in Nziko forest at Nteje in the Oyi Local Government Area of Anambra State. Shock and disbelief were the words the media used to describe the mood of Anambra State Deputy Governor, Mr. Emeka Sibeudu, when, in the company of Onukogu, he was led by security operatives to the four registration centres at a shrine in the deep forest. Onukogu, who was reportedly shock-stricken, said “I have heard of floating/flying polling booths.
Today, I have seen one. I am sad that there are four machines wasting here, whereas there are no machines in Onitsha, Eke Awka, Ozubulu, Nnewi and parts of Anaocha where thousands of people are waiting to be registered.” It is unfortunate that the REC had to be led to discover certain centres within his jurisdiction. So, who released the DDC machines to the forest? May be it was mischievous politicians who pressurised INEC officials to so act. But, how were they able to distribute such important election facilities without the knowledge of the REC?
No one needs to be tutored on the importance of a DDC machine. Anyone in whose custody it is can use it to manipulate the register to the benefit or disadvantage of a candidate or political party. It is thus so sensitive that it should neither be easy to take away from its designated location nor be technically possible to operate illegally. From what has happened elsewhere, it appears that the machines are not under lock and key. That is a logical deduction from the fact that in January, Bencyn Ikpe, the spokesperson for INEC in Plateau State revealed the theft of seven of the machines in the Langtang area of the state.
Also, another official of INEC, this time, in Ibadan, was last week caught in a Bodija hotel with four other persons along with six Direct Data Capture machines. According to Jega himself, the official “left people in the office who were still working overnight, producing the voter register to say he was going home around 8p.m. and, evidently, he left and went to the hotel to perpetrate whatever crime he was caught perpetrating.”
Considering the zero-sum nature of our political system, the desperation of politicians is to be expected.
Thus, in the conduct of elections in Nigeria, INEC officials ought to know that their transactions with politicians are one and the same as to dine with the devil. They must possess very many and extremely long spoons. The dinner can be sweet in the short term but poisonous on the long run, especially in a place like Ibadan which, according to history, has always been a flashpoint.
We recall that the only probe that has ever been instituted into elections in this country was headed by erudite jurist, Oyegoke Babalakin to examine the 1983 elections. One of the findings of the probe panel was that the malpractice of massive thumb-printing of ballot papers during the election was organised and executed at Government House in Agodi, Ibadan. Jega and his team should never expect that the theft of DDC machines is all to contend with in flashpoint cities.
The way out is not for INEC officials to raise alarm intermittently about people pressurising them to do evil. Rather, they must be up and doing in such and other locations. Jega understandably cannot be everywhere but his RECs must be on top of issues in their states. They should not only publicly disclose those pressurising them, they should officially report them to the law enforcement agencies to be prosecuted for attempting to rig elections.
If INEC officials keep to the style of raising alarms that the rest of us cannot ascertain, it will not be uncharitable for us to conclude that it was probably the officials themselves who induced the pressures by their own postures. We can only hope that governors who often provide welfare for RECs are not among the pressure groups.